In what will likely be my last political outing for a while, I got the train to Cheltenham recently for a talk by the Business Secretary, Dr. Vince Cable. It was hosted by Cheltenham Ladies’ College, organised by the impressive local Liberal Youth branch and attended by some exceedingly bright young students.
As expected, the Business Secretary spoke with the lucidity, insight and maturity which characterises his style of politics. He detailed the origins and consequences of the 2008 financial ‘heart attack’ – in terms even I could understand – to a packed room of attentive students, teachers and visitors.
A harsh critic of government at the time, he spoke not with backward-looking triumphalism but with forward-looking pragmatism. When a student asked if he was ‘risking public confidence by texting Ed Miliband’, Cable replied that he wanted to see his policies survive future changes of government – and that the ‘grown-up’ way to do this is to keep Labour in the loop. I couldn’t agree more – this is the ‘new politics’ we were talking about in 2010: a politics of consensus, not of tribalism.
He moved on to explain some of the strategies his department is taking. Research is receiving additional funding, apprenticeships are booming, manufacturing – notably cars and aerospace – is being strongly supported. Cable sees our present economic woes not just as a challenge – but as a chance to learn from history and set tomorrow’s economy on firmer foundations.
So it is regretful that I have to end this report with an apology. I must confess to having fallen prey to that most irritating of crimes – I accosted the poor man for a photograph. You can imagine what our poor ministers must think when we do this: “Oh, no. Another photograph with a greasy, grinning volunteer I don’t know from Adam. He could be a Kipper for all I know. Great.”
That’s certainly what I’d think. Worse still, a clamour of equally eager schoolgirls followed suit. I really felt quite bad about it. So, Dr. Cable, thank you for another great talk, in which you have rekindled my faith in the possibility of a British politics based on intelligence, maturity and cooperation. And sorry for unleashing, by way of thanks, a tide of photograph-hungry schoolgirls upon you. It’s a thankless task, this business of being a decent politician.
* Saw Lawes is the Western Counties Chair of Liberal Youth